LINCOLN, Neb. — An architectural firm is seeking public input until Friday on a proposed Weigand Marina expansion in Knox County, Nebraska.
The 2022 Nebraska Legislature passed the “STAR WARS” bill calling for more than $90 million in upgrades to state facilities along the Nebraska side of Lewis and Clark Lake near Yankton.
The bill’s name comes from the acronym for the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability (STAR WARS) Special Committee in the unicameral.
Public input will assist in the design process, according to a member of the Confluence architectural firm working with the project.
“The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) has hired a consultant team, led by Confluence, to complete a marina expansion plan for Weigand Marina in the Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area in Crofton, Nebraska,” Confluence spokeswoman Caitlin Bolte told the Press & Dakotan.
The Lewis and Clark upgrades would include a major expansion of the current number of boat slips. A design document explained the tremendous pent-up demand for the service.
“Presently, the marina on the Nebraska side of Lewis & Clark Lake has only 122 slips and a waiting list so long that new requests are no longer taken,” the document said. “The expansion proposed in the bill would increase the number of slips by five to six times.”
The plan would not only upgrade Weigand Marina but also construct a lodge/events center at neighboring Niobrara State Park. The proposal seeks to deliver a major recreational and economic boost throughout northeast Nebraska.
The STAR WARS committee identified Weigand Marina as a “geographic area with opportunity for economic development, tourism and recreation, flood control and water sustainability,” Bolte added.
Preliminary planning work began last November and remains underway, according to NGPC officials.
Confluence’s work will continue the progress, Bolte said.
“This design effort builds upon previous planning work,” she said. “The project is funded for construction, with design completion targeted for October 2023 and construction starting in November 2023.”
Confluence officials are asking the public’s assistance in guiding the project. Interested persons can visit the interactive website at https://confluence.mysocialpinpoint.com/weigand-marina/.
Comment remains open until Jan. 20, Bolte said.
According to the STAR WARS legislation, the Weigand Marina expansion should include:
• Marina Expansion;
• Boat Slips;
• Park Office;
• Marina Store / Restaurant;
• Concessionaire Building for Kayak Rental;
• Parking Lots;
• Fuel Delivery;
• Other necessary amenities for a marina operation.
Nebraskans aren’t the only ones watching the project as it moves forward. South Dakota state and regional tourism officials discussed the STAR WARS project during a conference last year near Yankton.
South Dakota Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen told the Press & Dakotan that the Nebraska project could complement and boost regional tourism in both states.
Nebraska State Sen. Barry DeKay agrees, telling the Press & Dakotan the project stands to become a win-win for everybody. The STAR WARS effort provides badly needed recreational and water projects, he added.
“We are trying to enhance tourism (around the region). We’re not in competition with the South Dakota side of the lake,” he said. “We do want to give people the ability who want to stay on the Nebraska side. We’re trying to give people that environment and generate more revenue for the state of Nebraska.”
DeKay has recently begun his first term in the Legislature, representing District 40 including Knox, Cedar, Antelope, Holt and portions of Pierce and Dixon counties.
He lives near Niobrara, Nebraska, which relies heavily on tourism. The Knox County community of about 370 residents draws visitors to the neighboring state park, the Missouri River and to outlying areas for hunting and fishing.
The Niobrara area faced challenges with 2011 and 2019 flooding, which has led to the rebuilding of bridges, highways and other infrastructure needs.
The Crofton area also draws heavily on visitors to Lewis and Clark Lake and the Missouri River. Crofton, a community of about 800 residents, promotes a triathlon and other events tied to the lake.
In addition, Native American tribes in Knox County stand to benefit from increased tourism with the upgraded facilities. The Santee Sioux Nation has worked to draw visitors with its Ohiya Casino and other avenues, while the Ponca Tribe holds its annual powwow and other visitor-oriented activities.
The potential for growing the region’s tourism already can be seen.
Each year, an estimated 2 million people visit the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area on the South Dakota side. The area became increasingly popular during the pandemic and continues to draw repeat visitors.
In response, private campgrounds and businesses have grown in recent years.
Nebraska officials see the opportunity for drawing and building upon the interest already shown in the region. The Lewis and Clark Lake area hosts not only recreationists and other visitors but also summer homes of Omaha residents and other seasonal visitors.
DeKay doesn’t seek a major change in the area’s natural scenery and offerings. Rather, he sees a way to enhance the current offerings to visitors who are headed to other destinations and may want to spend additional time — and dollars — while in the area.
“I feel people don’t want to commercialize the state parks,” he said. “We just want to give people the chance to come to this corner of our state and interact with our merchants.”
Boating remains very popular at Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area (SRA), according to the NGPC. Sailboats, speed boats and personal watercraft are all permitted. Fuel is available at the Weigand Marina. The area offers 116 leased seasonal docks and six daily rental docks that may be reserved in advance.
Four ramps are available in the Weigand area. A portion of the spillway and the tailrace of Gavins Point are no-wake zones. The lake also offers access to the Missouri River.
The STAR WARS project started last November, with the current phase for design documents running through October.
And that’s where the NGPC and Confluence officials are seeking the public’s input in moving forward with the marina project.
“The purpose of this website is to gain feedback on the vision of the Weigand Marina directly from its users and other stakeholders,” according to the website. “To help complete the expansion plan, public input is needed to determine an overall vision and desired amenities for the marina.”
The current public survey isn’t the only activity with the Lewis and Clark Lake area upgrades, DeKay said. The Nebraska Legislature is looking at plans, funding and amenities for the region and how it fits into the Husker State’s overall economic plans.
The project also must comply with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requirements, he said.
Those discussions, as well as work on the Niobrara State Park lodge/event center, will unfold as the unicameral session continues, DeKay predicted. For now, he is holding conversations and sending correspondence to a number of interested parties.
Before he won his current legislative seat, DeKay said he worked with then-State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, Nebraska, on the STAR WARS project. The work helped provide a foundation to keep the project going, as Flood now serves as one of Nebraska’s U.S. House members.
“The STAR WARS project is moving along,” DeKay said. “There are some things on the drawing board. It’s going to be a very nice with the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area and the Niobrara State Park.”
The Weigand Marina and Niobrara State Park upgrades are part of the STAR WARS committee’s larger study on opportunities for economic development, tourism, flood control and water sustainability.
DeKay noted that attention is being focused on reliable, sustainable water supplies in the Cedar-Knox area. The discussion includes the impact of Lewis and Clark Lake sedimentation on the Missouri River water supplies for northeast Nebraska.
In addition, COVID has caused more people to reconsider where they want to live and work, DeKay said. Reliable water supplies and outdoor recreation will work hand in hand with workforce and economic development, he added.
“Things are starting to fall into place,” he said.
To contact DeKay at the Legislature, email him at email@example.com.
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